It needs to be noted that according to some data, the alt-right are a rare group, with the majority being male, and between the ages of 45 to 60+, there is still a seemingly sizable number of young adults in the group as well. According to this research’s particular sample of the population, the alt right’s demographics such as age, income, education, gender, and employment are similar to regular Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters (Forscher & Kteily 2020). Hawley (2018) finding a similar layout notes that when trying to capture demographic information and political stances with the alt-right, one will have to question whether there might be a larger portion of the population that fall into that category, but not admit to it due to a desirability bias or wanting to appear more favorably to others. He also notes that those sampled who have a strong sense of white identity and racial prejudices are not necessarily going to be involved with radical movements. Overall, it seems to be a near futile effort to try to predict which white Americans might have attitudes that lean towards white identity politics. Though Crosset, Tanner, & Campana (2019), note that there are three common themes that run through individuals within the group: an extreme form of nationalism, critique of democracy, equality, pluralism; rejection of the the “other” defined in varying ways and advocation of radical modes of action to change the social order.
It seeps into higher positions in society as well, it is not uncommon to hear of republican politicians having ties to white supremacist or confederate groups, there is also the problem of Ghost Skins, who according to the FBI (2006), are white supremacists who are attempting to, or have infiltrated the ranks of law enforcement. Speri (2017) through classified FBI documents from 2015, notes that the problem seems to persist and the bureau often finds connections between extremists and law enforcement officers.
Given all that is going on at this moment, it should not be terribly shocking that there are elements of white nationalism working within law enforcement, but when the institution itself was created for racist purposes, it starts to make a little more sense why white supremacists might get into the force without detection or much in the way of hurdles to become an officer. There is no doubt, a promise to further an agenda by having a pass to brutalize and oppress non-whites might attract a certain kind of person.
The spread-out nature of the group makes it hard to assess or prevent lone-wolf attacks as they do not seem to take any orders from an individual or group and are simply reported as being fed an ideology of hate towards other races and even gender in some cases. They are becoming a larger threat than international terrorism, as shown by The Center for Strategic and International Studies or CSIS (2020) who reveal that there has been a rise in right-wing domestic terrorism over the last 6 years and is typically perpetrated by one of three types: white supremacists, anti-government extremists, and incels. The report goes on to mention that the diffuse and somewhat overlapped nature of the three groups makes it difficult to understand them and that this tactic is likely inspired by the white supremacist Louis Beam who promoted a leaderless resistance. Louis Beam was also mentioned by Berlet & Lyons (2018) in regards to a slew of violent hate attacks in the late 90s, noting that the incidents were fueled by hate ideology with no orders from any particular groups or persons. The authors also tie this lone wolf phenomenon, at the time, to Louis Beam’s essay on leaderless resistance, which calls for guerilla principles in the fight against the government.
When looking into this group online, one has to deal with the issue of anonymity and how much of what is being said is actually true or not. On the level of personal contact, there is the problem of people hiding their beliefs due to desirability bias, to remain hidden in the crowd.
The problem with measuring activity, both on and offline, and how it might translate to behaviors outside of it goes back to the issue of considering the person and the situation, viewing their words and actions outside a framework of static personality. This goes back to the landmark study by Lapiere (1934), who traveled with a Chinese couple and called hotels and restaurants asking if they would accommodate or serve Chinese, to which all said no, though upon arriving, all but one of the establishments refused accommodation or service. The study revealed that when trying to assess behavior, what people say, and how they may actually behave in a situation can be two different things.
Next up: the stepping stones to radicalization.
Berlet, C., & Lyons, M. N. (2018). Right-wing populism in America: Too close for comfort. In Chapter 16, The New Millennium: Demonization, Conspiracism, and Scapegoating in Transition.
Crosset, V., Tanner, S., & Campana, A. (2019). Researching far right groups on Twitter: Methodological challenges 2.0. New Media & Society, 21(4), 939–961. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444818817306
CSIS (June 2020) The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States Retrieved 15, July 2020.
FBI. Counterterrorism Division (17 October 2006). “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” Retrieved 15, July 2020.
Forscher, P. S., & Kteily, N. S. (2020). A psychological profile of the alt-right. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(1), 90-116.
Hawley, G. (2018). The demography of the alt-right. Institute for Family Studies. https://ifstudies. org/blog/the-demography-of-the-alt-right Retrieved 15, July 2020.
LaPiere, Richard T. (1934). “Attitudes vs. Actions”. Social Forces. 13 (2): 230–237. doi:10.2307/2570339
Speri, A. (2017, January 31). The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2017/01/31/the-fbi-has-quietly-investigated-white-supremacist-infiltration-of-law-enforcement/ Retrieved 24, July 2020.